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Hi everybody! Nora here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Arabic questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: What are “sun” and “moon letters”?
You might have noticed that sometimes you see Arabic words with an al- at the beginning. This al- changes a noun from indefinite to definite, just like the English "the."
But sometimes, even if it says al- in the text, it’s pronounced a-. In this lesson, we’ll discuss why this happens.
To understand this, we have to differentiate between 2 types of letters in Arabic: “Sun letters” and “Moon letters.”
Words that begin with “sun letters” make the al- before it, sound like an a-. Words that start in a “moon letter” allow the al- to be pronounced fully.
First let's take a look at “sun letters.” “Sun letters” are referred to as
ḥurūf šamsiyyah, حُروف شَمسِيَّة
because the letter sh ش at the beginning of the word shams, meaning "sun," is itself a “sun letter.” Having a “sun letter” after the definite al- will result in 2 things:
1- losing the l sound in the al-
2- doubling the initial “sun letter” itself.
“Sun letters” are:
ḏ / ذ
d / د
ḍ / ض
ṣ / ص
ṯ / ث
š / ش
s / س
t / ت
n / ن
l / ل
ṭ / ط
r / ر
z / ز
ẓ / ظ
Let's try to pronounce a word that starts with an al followed by a “sun letter.”
a-ššams / “the sun”
a-ṯṯaliṯ / “the third”
a-llaḥm / “the meat”
Notice how the “sun letter” is doubled, and how the l sound is lost.
Now let's take a look at “moon letters.” “Moon letters” are referred to as ḥurūf qamariyyah, حُروف قَمَرِيَّة because the letter q ق in the beginning of the word qamar, meaning "moon," is itself a “moon letter.”
“Moon letters” allow the al- before them to be pronounced fully as al-.
Here are the “moon letters”:
q / ق
f / ف
ġ / غ
ʿ / ع
h / ه
ḫ / خ
ḥ / ح
ǧ / ج
ī / ي
b / ب
k / ك
m / م
ʾ / ء
ū / و
Let's try to pronounce some words that start with al- followed by a “moon letter.”
al-māʾ/ “the water”
al-kalb /“the dog”
al-ward / “the flowers”
Notice how “moon letters” allow the al to be pronounced fully.


I hope this was helpful.
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
Bye! إلى اللقاء(ʾilā al-liqaāʾ)